In recent years tabletops games, traditional games or just plain board games have experienced somewhat of a renaissance. A plethora of specialty stores have popped up and a slew of innovative, independent games are funded almost every month on Kickstarter. The market has truly emerged into its own. Of all of this by far the biggest winner has been Settlers of Catan. Starting out as a more niche product the red and yellow box can now be found among the legacy games, Monopoly, Sorry, Risk, etc. in the toy aisles of Walmart, Target and Toys R Us. The problem with this is that Settlers of Catan is a bad game masquerading as something better.
Catan, in branding at least, is referred to as a ‘Euro-game’ where one of the primary distinguishing factors is attempting to reduce luck and increase strategy. Catan though falls firmly on the side of luck. While not as random as Monopoly, what is rolled is still the ultimate determining factor in Catan. The amount of dice used and the amount of times they are rolled in a standard game of Catan is far too few to even out and get the bell curve that would, in essence, remove the randomness from the game from the macro level. This defect becomes even more pronounced in the first several turns where a few bad or good rolls can put one irreversibly ahead or behind of the field. Not to mention in larger games the choice spots could all be taken before those later in the rotation get to pick and this order is determined entirely by less than a dozen throws of a die. Nor is there any mechanic implemented in Catan to be re-rolling, adding, or subtracting from the result of a given die roll as many other games implement to remove some of the variance inherent in dice.
Randomness in a board game is not antithetical fun, though it is a little concerning when a game advertises itself as based upon strategy when it really is not, the right attitude must be taken to it. It has to be understood that the outcomes are, in many ways, out of the player’s control and there exists nothing they can do about it. This is where Catan’s second big flaw emerges. The game is perceived as strategy-based and so people naturally approach the game from a more serious manner. I cannot count the number of times I have seen families or groups of friends getting very serious about a game of Catan and its outcome.
Especially by this point, people should move on to other games that do Catan but better. Resource management games, and those without such heavy luck elements, abound in the board games market. Splendor and Agricola immediately spring to mind and Scythe blows them all out of the water. These three are by no means an exhaustive list and there hundreds of wonderful board games being produced. So step beyond Catan and towards something better, or at least take the whole thing a bit less seriously.